Interviews

20.11.18

HS2 train race: making the case

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2018

Bombardier and Hitachi’s commitment to providing the best HS2 rolling stock pitch to the government was signified with the launch of their new bid centre in Birmingham in September. With other transport giants Alstom, CAF, Talgo and Siemens also vying for the lucrative £3bn contract, both Hitachi and Bombardier will need to be on their A-game to win the bid. But how will they do so, and what challenges will they come up against? RTM’s Jack Donnelly sat down with Hitachi Rail Europe managing director Karen Boswell OBE to find out more.

When the chance of winning a £2.75bn contract is on the line, you will go the extra mile to drive innovation and forge new relationships – and that is exactly what global rail giants Hitachi and Bombardier have done. In September, the joint venture announced a 50-strong team of experts including engineers, designers, and environmental specialists assembled to work on the proposals to best support the government’s strategic HS2 goals.

One of the driving forces behind the new collaboration is the managing director and chief administration officer at Hitachi Rail Europe, Karen Boswell. Having previously held senior positions at the East Coast Main Line Company and First Great Western, Karen has been able to take her knowledge to her latest post, where she has worked since 2015.

The long and tenuous bidding process will need all 50 staff members to be working around the clock to present the best case to the government against stiff competition. But with other major rolling stock companies in the race, how will Bombardier and Hitachi stand out?

“When you put a bid together of this nature, you’re always having to look at what is best for the bid. You can’t get carried away; you have to answer the exam question,” the Hitachi MD told me. “We’re doing a lot of work at the moment thinking about those nuances that are going to ‘wow’ customers into the future. So that legacy has to be, first of all, when you see it the first time and you go: ‘wow, I want to be part of that.’

“All the time bearing in mind that it has to be fit for purpose as well – it has to be something that works in terms of value chain, whole-life costing, the passenger experience… and those are all going to be the things we will be thinking of.”

Hitachi, of course, has an abundance of experience in building high-speed trains throughout its history: famed nationally with designing the Shinkansen-style bullet train for HS1, known as the Class 395 Javelin, the fleet has one of the highest passenger satisfaction rates in the country. Boswell noted that the partnership with Bombardier will allow the entire rolling stock development process to remain in-house, starting from planning until roll-out in 2026.

She explained: “We have manufacturing sites in Newton Aycliffe and in Derby – working well with local supply chains in both of those areas, as we will within the Birmingham area.

“There’s many reasons behind this: from design, to passenger experience, to local manufacturing, to how we engage with the supply chain, that makes this a very sensible thing to come together because we want this train to be built in the UK, make no mistake. HS2 trains being built in Europe is not something we would countenance.”

Attention to the customer

With more attention on HS2 than ever, the winning bidder for the contract will have to leap through hoops to satisfy government’s – and the wider general public’s – high standards for the £56bn project. In September, progress to introduce the new Class 800/801 Hitachi Azuma trains on the East Coast Main Line was slowed due to electromagnetic emissions from the fleet interfering with existing safety-critical systems. Inevitably, challenges like these will come up against Hitachi and Bombardier should they win the bid. But how can issues be mitigated and overcome to ensure that the rolling stock for HS2 is delivered on time and on budget?

For Karen, it boils down to the customer – both client and commuter. She said: “Understanding what is right for passengers is really key, and it’s the end passenger that we must always have in mind to deliver for our customer HS2 and learn from the project.

“Business is all about taking the best and then actually innovating. If you don’t take the time to reflect on what worked well, what didn’t work so well, what is changing from a customer perspective – if you aren’t asking those questions – then you lose out.”

The government is expected to make its decision on the rolling stock contract in February next year, and in the run-up until then all companies will be pushing the boundaries of creativity, reliability, and functionality in the race to become the fleet provider of arguably the largest rail project the country has ever seen. Until then, the Bombardier and Hitachi team will be working 24/7 in the hopes of becoming the winning bidder.

 

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